Australia wildfires: Firefighter who lost home refuses to shake prime minister Scott Morrison’s hand

Awkward exchange took place in Cobargo, where father and son were killed by blaze this week

Chiara Giordano
Friday 03 January 2020 15:29
Firefighter who lost home in Australia wildfires refuses refuses to shake prime minister's hand

A firefighter who lost his home in Australia’s wildfires has been caught on camera refusing to shake prime minister Scott Morrison’s hand.

The awkward exchange took place during the prime minister’s visit to Cobargo, New South Wales, where a father and son were killed by fires on Monday.

In a video filmed by Greg Nelson, who has been documenting the wildfires, Mr Morrison can be seen walking up to a firefighter who is taking a tea break and holding out his hand.

The unidentified fireman refuses to take it, saying: “I don’t really want to shake your hand”. The prime minister replies: “Oh well, it’s nice to see you.”

Another video, apparently filmed soon after, was shared on social media by Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Siobhan Heanue. It shows Mr Morrison saying: “Tell that fella I’m really sorry; I’m sure he’s just tired.”

But another man, wearing a “deputy incident controller” vest, replies: “No, no, he lost the house.”

Mr Morrison was forced to cut short his visit to the fire-ravaged village on Thursday after victims began shouting at him and booing.

During another incident that same day, the prime minister grabbed the hand of a woman who said she would only shake his hand if he gave more funding to the Rural Fire Service.

“So many people here have lost their homes," she told him.

Another resident yelled: “This is not fair. We are totally forgotten down here. Every single time this area gets a flood or a fire we get nothing.

“If we lived in Sydney or on the North Coast we would be flooded with donations and emergency relief.”

Residents shouted "scumbag" at Mr Morrison as he was driven out of the town,

At least 19 people have been killed and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed as the wildfires have raged across five million hectares of land since September.

At least 448 homes were destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast this week, while dozens were burned in Victoria.

Ten deaths have been confirmed in the two states this week, and Victoria authorities say 28 people are also missing.

Fires are also burning in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

One of the largest evacuations in Australia’s history is currently underway as hot weather and strong winds are predicted to worsen the devastating wildfires.

More than 200 fires are burning and warnings of extreme danger to come on Saturday have prompted mass evacuations.

The navy has evacuated hundreds of people from Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria cut off for days by wildfires that have forced as many as 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches.

In New South Wales, a state of emergency and a total fire ban are in place.

State Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers has urged people not to wait to leave, noting four people in the state died in their cars as they made late attempts to flee.

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